5
Community Involvement and Traditional Knowledge

Community involvement and the incorporation of traditional knowledge in the Gulf Ecosystem Monitoring (GEM) program is critical to the program’s long-term success. Early Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council documents indicated a desire to incorporate community involvement and traditional knowledge into the new GEM program, and the Trustee Council made many efforts over the past decade to create opportunities for community involvement in the program, with varying degrees of success.

However, this emphasis on community involvement and traditional knowledge appears to have receded in successive documents reviewed by the committee. The committee’s interim report discussed the importance of community involvement and use of traditional knowledge and identified a need for increased attention, but the current GEM science plan appears to give these issues less, not more, attention. The committee, once again, urges the Trustee Council to review these issues in earnest. The commitment to and philosophy regarding community involvement and traditional knowledge needs much more clarification and explanation, whether in the GEM plan or in supplementary documents.

The first question to revisit is whether community involvement and traditional knowledge should be a part of the GEM program. The committee believes that community involvement and traditional knowledge should be explicitly incorporated in the GEM program. If community involvement and traditional knowledge are to be incorporated, the next question is why are community involvement and traditional knowledge important? First, community involvement and traditional knowledge are



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A Century of Ecosystem Science: Planning Long-Term Research in the Gulf of Alaska 5 Community Involvement and Traditional Knowledge Community involvement and the incorporation of traditional knowledge in the Gulf Ecosystem Monitoring (GEM) program is critical to the program’s long-term success. Early Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council documents indicated a desire to incorporate community involvement and traditional knowledge into the new GEM program, and the Trustee Council made many efforts over the past decade to create opportunities for community involvement in the program, with varying degrees of success. However, this emphasis on community involvement and traditional knowledge appears to have receded in successive documents reviewed by the committee. The committee’s interim report discussed the importance of community involvement and use of traditional knowledge and identified a need for increased attention, but the current GEM science plan appears to give these issues less, not more, attention. The committee, once again, urges the Trustee Council to review these issues in earnest. The commitment to and philosophy regarding community involvement and traditional knowledge needs much more clarification and explanation, whether in the GEM plan or in supplementary documents. The first question to revisit is whether community involvement and traditional knowledge should be a part of the GEM program. The committee believes that community involvement and traditional knowledge should be explicitly incorporated in the GEM program. If community involvement and traditional knowledge are to be incorporated, the next question is why are community involvement and traditional knowledge important? First, community involvement and traditional knowledge are

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A Century of Ecosystem Science: Planning Long-Term Research in the Gulf of Alaska important because as program components they can contribute to the focus on ecosystem monitoring. Local residents possess valuable ecological knowledge—information that can be directly incorporated into established scientific models. Local residents can be a source of important research questions and can help assure that research is relevant to both ecological and community needs. In addition, local participants offer potential efficiencies in data collection efforts. Local participants are likely to be critical to the success of any stewardship goals associated with the GEM program. Local participation can build constituent support for the GEM program, which is important for a program intended to operate for centuries. Such a partnership has proven successful in Nova Scotia, with the formation of the Fisherman and Scientist Research Society (Box 5–1). The committee is not alone in recognizing the practical significance of traditional knowledge to contemporary sciences such as ecology, conservation, biology, pharmaceuticals, forestry, fish, and wildlife sciences. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN, 1986) lists the following arenas in which traditional knowledge can prove useful to science and environmental applications: new biological insights, resource management, conservation education, reserve design and management, development planning, environmental assessment, and commodity development. Traditional knowledge also has strong potential for informing the science of ecological restoration (Martinez, 1994; Kimmerer, 2000). Ford (2001) suggests that traditional knowledge plays a vital role in ecological monitoring and early warning signs of ecosystem change. In sum, one answer to the “why” question is that it is in the best interests of the GEM program goals to incorporate community involvement and traditional knowledge. This is a profoundly utilitarian rationale—locals can help the program—but it is potentially a source of foundation for future problems. Such issues should be approached cautiously by the Trustee Council with careful attention given to the cultural and social significance of the participation of the residents of Prince William Sound in the GEM program. Indeed, it appears that the noticeable retreat of communities from GEM program planning activities arises from the perceptions that the relationship between science programs and communities has been relatively one-sided in the past, and that the GEM program will continue this relationship in the future. The issue of the relationship between the traditional scientific community and the communities of the Exxon Valdez oil spill region presents a second broad rationale for incorporation of community involvement and traditional knowledge into the GEM program. The second rationale rests on an equity argument, which is distinct from the utilitarian rationale above. The GEM program, like the Trustee Council itself, is a result of settlement funds dedicated to restoration of an ecosystem damaged by a

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A Century of Ecosystem Science: Planning Long-Term Research in the Gulf of Alaska BOX 5–1 An Example of Community Involvement: The Fisherman and Scientist Research Society Community involvement in scientific research aimed at gaining a better understanding of marine ecosystems can bring benefits. However, communities must have a role in helping to define what will be done and how it will be done. They must be actively involved in conducting the research, analyzing data, and disseminating the results to members of the community and other stakeholders. One example of community involvement and how long it can take to develop is under way among coastal fishermen and fisheries biologists from the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Nova Scotia. The Fisherman and Scientist Research Society was formed in the early 1990s to help develop a common understanding of the status of commercially harvested fishes and invertebrates on the continental shelf off Nova Scotia. Officers of the society are fishermen elected by the membership. The executive is advised by directors at large drawn from the membership and participating member scientists, a Communications Committee, and a Scientific Program Committee. More than 300 members from across the province meet annually to discuss the results of research undertaken in the previous year and to plan major new initiatives. The first several years represented a difficult and uncertain period for the society. It takes time, hard work, and a commitment to succeed to overcome existing biases and to build new relationships based on mutual respect. Over the past eight years, however, the society has made tremendous strides. It has undertaken collaborative research on a range of topics, including inshore fish abundance surveys, fish tagging, studies on fish diets and physical condition, lobster recruitment, and coastal ocean temperature. The impetus behind most of these studies has come from questions posed by the membership with involvement at the community level. As the society matures the range and scope of the research continues to grow, providing fisheries scientists and oceanographers with an opportunity to address questions that would be difficult to address otherwise. SOURCE: NRC, 2001. human technological disaster (Erikson, 1994). This ecosystem includes resource-dependent human communities (Picou and Gill, 1996), and these local communities have strong interest as stakeholders in the outcome of restoration activities (including long-term monitoring). The GEM program

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A Century of Ecosystem Science: Planning Long-Term Research in the Gulf of Alaska is a science program: It can be a science program without the involvement of local people, but it can be fashioned as a science program with effective local involvement with real gains to its relevance and no loss to its scientific credibility. The equity argument in favor of community involvement compels consideration of some key definitional issues. What do the terms “community” and “involvement” mean? The committee suggests that “community” includes both the geographic communities of the GEM program region and more broadly the people who live and work in that region. Defining “involvement” is more complex and lies at the root of the issues concerning community involvement in the GEM program. The committee’s review of past community involvement in Trustee Council research showed that involvement generally appeared to be a blend of employment opportunities and peripheral advisory roles. The GEM science plan seems to suggest a general continuation of this approach, but with little explanation. However, the committee has received the clear sense that local communities are increasingly uncomfortable with this status quo approach to involvement. It is likely that residents will continue to press for more access to and participation in all phases of the GEM program. There is abundant literature on traditional knowledge (e.g., Johannes, 1989; Baines and Williams, 1993; Rose, 1993), and on participatory research (e.g., Castellano, 1993; Chambers, 1997; Hall, 1981; Holland and Blackburn, 1998; Park 1993; Park and Williams, 1999). A pervasive theme throughout this literature is the relationship between local people and scientific research programs that is directly relevant to the community involvement/traditional knowledge issues confronting the GEM program. Consider, for example, the distinction between involvement in actual program planning and execution versus providing public advice on programs and projects presented to locals, rather than designed by locals: [T]here is an inherent flaw in calling for more participatory forms of management when the specific goals are predetermined. Under such conditions local people’s role in the management process necessarily remains prescribed and largely symbolic. It is the contention of the authors, that whereas there is a dis-course of participatory marine management, the practice remains hierarchical and inclined toward use of the knowledge of those with the most formal education and the least experience (Glaesel and Simonitsch, 2001). Public review does not equal public involvement; it is only part of an overall commitment to public involvement. Similarly, meaningful community participation must consist of more than providing employment to locals (to work on projects conceived and run by others). Seeing local residents only as a potential labor pool ignores the critical factor of who asks

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A Century of Ecosystem Science: Planning Long-Term Research in the Gulf of Alaska the research questions. This does not mean that employing local residents is inappropriate, but rather that the continued identification of involvement exclusively with employment is unnecessarily narrow and impedes an understanding of why the relationship between the Trustee Council and local residents is strained. It might be instructive to consider a reversal of roles. What if the scientific community was treated as a labor pool for a long-term monitoring program administered and controlled by local communities? Can there be any doubt that the scientific community would demand a more substantive role in the program? Of course, either extreme (treating the local communities or the scientific community exclusively as a labor pool and source of secondary advice) is untenable. If substantive community involvement is to be a feature of the GEM program, the next question is how can that involvement be fostered at this planning and initiation stage? Moving beyond mere expression of support for community involvement requires confronting issues of relationships: [T]here remains the challenge of establishing effective relationships between the community and external institutions. The power relationships which prevail represent possibly the most critical factor (Castellano, 1993, p. 152). As we noted in our interim report the entire GEM program needs a foundation that is simple, robust, and adaptable that permits local issues to be addressed in a meaningful way from the very beginning of the program. We noted that there are essentially three possible arrangements to consider in terms of providing a foundation for community involvement. First, every project could be required to feature community involvement. Second, the program could include a separate, distinct community GEM program that would operate with autonomy. Third, the GEM program could be structured to aim for a balanced distribution of power and opportunity between the scientific and local communities. The first approach is severely flawed because it consists solely of a formulaic insistence on community involvement in every project that will do little more than encourage tokenism. The second approach has merit, but it introduces inevitable difficulties of allocating between communities (or between groups of communities) and would limit opportunities for genuinely mutual exchange between scientists and local residents. The second approach is largely embodied in a proposal put forward by the Chugach Regional Resources Council representing several Alaskan native villages in the GEM region. Alaskan native communities have no direct representation on the Trustee Council and this appears to be a source of tension distinct from more general questions of involvement. The Chugach Council representatives who met with the committee spoke of a desire to institute a community GEM program on a government-to-gov-

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A Century of Ecosystem Science: Planning Long-Term Research in the Gulf of Alaska ernment basis in terms of their relationship to the Trustee Council. Over the course of the GEM program it appears that the Trustee Council will have to be sensitive to sovereignty issues regardless of whatever actions are taken in terms of incorporating Alaskan native involvement in the GEM program. The committee repeats its recommendation from its interim report: GEM should pursue an approach to community involvement based on shared power and shared opportunity between the scientific and local communities. The goal of shared power requires community representation at all organizational levels. For community-originated studies to be effective these structural provisions of power to communities must be accompanied by opportunities to receive funding. To ensure genuine incorporation of community interests and local knowledge and experience, the program should have some flexibility to fund proposals written outside the standard format and phrasing of the scientific establishment. There might also be a mechanism (e.g., periodic training sessions) to support communities wishing to submit proposals. The institutional and communicative barriers confronting communities can be substantial. For example, Castellano (1993) states: [C]ommunity groups typically encounter resistance in local and regional agencies to community-sponsored proposals to vary the application of inappropriate rules. A second issue is management of communications between communities and institutions when the actors operate from differing styles of communication. In general, the greater the distance between the cultural forms prevalent in the community and the cultural forms recognized or legitimated in the institutions, the more difficult it will be for both sides to recognize the commonalities that permit accommodation of community proposals by the institutions. If congruence between community proposals and institutional priorities is not easily identified, advocates within the institution will be subjected to personal risk in at-tempting to sell the ideas to their colleagues. The packaging of community proposals to emphasize points of congruence between new approaches and accepted practices, and the identification of persons or units in the institutions with a mandate to act in the field are strategic imperatives (Castellano, 1993, p. 153). The kinds of barriers to effective community involvement highlighted in the literature are evident in the GEM planning process. For example, the committee was informed that one significant aspect of community involvement envisioned for the GEM program consisted of the subcommittees featured in the discussion of “guidance on GEM program development and implementation” in Section 6.3 of Volume I. The description of the subcom-

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A Century of Ecosystem Science: Planning Long-Term Research in the Gulf of Alaska mittees (p. 70) underscores some of the communicative and perceptual challenges confronting program planners and local communities. The subcommittee would be composed of scientists, resource managers, and other experts selected primarily for disciplinary expertise and familiarity with the broad habitat type (watersheds, intertidal and subtidal, ACC, and offshore). Institutional and professional affiliations would be of interest in selecting members to promote collaboration and cooperation. The essence of the problem here is that the very language that is ostensibly intended to invite community participation is instead likely to be interpreted as repelling community participation. In summary, the committee recommends that community involvement be designed throughout the GEM program in a manner that promotes meaningful involvement and provides for flexibility into the future as the GEM program evolves. Approaching community involvement in the fashion recommended by the committee should be regarded as a work in progress, because building the necessary relationships and developing a process that works will take time (see Box 5–1). In many respects the GEM program will be breaking new ground in integrating community involvement into a long-term science plan. As one step in rethinking its commitment to community involvement, the Trustee Council should review community outreach programs designed by the Prince William Sound Regional Citizen’s Advisory Council, which have been successfully used in communities and native villages affected by the Exxon Valdez oil spill (<www.pwsrcac.org>). This may provide direction for designing activities that promote substantive participation and involvement of local residents in all phases of the GEM program. The committee is under no illusion that successful incorporation of community involvement and traditional knowledge in the GEM program will be easy. It will take more than just the inclusion of the words “community involvement” and “traditional knowledge” in program planning documents. It will require the engagement of planners, administrators, and researchers representing the scientific community with relevant experts and literature regarding participatory research and traditional knowledge, and most of all, with residents of local communities on shared terms. It will require the local communities to recognize that the GEM program will not address all their needs and aspirations. Nonetheless, the opportunity to develop community participation in the GEM science program will benefit all parties involved and should be seriously pursued by the Trustee Council.